Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

Delightful Conversation

 

When Dakota opened the door of the small house set above the river, Trevor Kantz extended his arms to hug her, but she backed away and said, “Touching don’t seem right for this here.”  Trevor had been braced for hysteria, but it didn’t take long to recognize the standoffishness she’d shown him ever since he’d introduced himself to her as Travis’ gay brother.  Travis had warned him, but he’d wanted to get past that right off.  He’d even made a little joke about himself, saying “unemployed,” “skinny,” and "gay,” as if all of his adjectives about himself were equally self-deprecating.  She’d have room to maneuver, he’d thought, but she’d said, “Is that so?” in a tone that so heavily emphasized contempt he thought it covered all three qualities, what with Travis holding down a computer job, her being about 5’7” and weighing maybe 170 by the looks of it, and Travis announcing they were getting married.

 

Travis had said, “Two of those are in the process of changing.  Baby brother has an interview next week, and he’s eating like he wants to catch up to me.”  Travis weighed 230 then, going soft, but at six-four not somebody you’d imagine gaining fifty pounds within a year after getting married.  And Dakota was tall enough at the time to pass as a woman some would call voluptuous.

 

Trevor had laughed.  He’d tried “Two out of three ain’t bad,” as if an old Meat Loaf song could speak for him.  Dakota, for her part, had looked him up and down like she was trying to identify the symptoms of the disease he’d just announced.  And from then on, she’d stayed tight-lipped around him, her sentences brief or reduced to clipped phrases and single words.  Even more likely, silence.

 

What else he didn’t expect as she let him enter the house was how carefully she was dressed.  Hair styled, makeup, the expensive gold necklace Travis had given her on their first anniversary. “The paper was here this morning,” she said right off.  ”I have this on because I wanted to look good for Travis.  Somebody has to hear his side.  Look at all this they’re saying.”

 

Trevor looked to where she had the morning local paper spread out on the kitchen table.  There were two paragraphs about how Travis’ body had been found in a raggedy-looking lot on the same block as a house he owned and seemed to have been fixing in Riverton.  There were three paragraphs about how Travis frequented the strip club a few miles south of PorTView, where he lived with his wife.  And four paragraphs of comments by a stripper who said she felt bad because Travis was such a nice guy.  Like a biography, Trevor thought.  An unauthorized one.

 

“They’re making him out a crazy person full of secrets,” Dakota said.  “It’s not crazy to fix up a house so you can rent it and make money.  It’s not a secret if you sit at a strip club in plain sight.  Secret and crazy are all the men who look at porn all day on their computers with the door locked.” 

 

Dakota grabbed the other sections of the newspaper and balled them up before tossing them into the wastebasket.  “Stabbed repeatedly,” she said.  “How many fucking times is that?  When is it more than several times?  It’s like he was butchered.”  She paused, gasping, and Trevor nearly reached for her again before she took a breath and added, “Like he’s nobody at all.  Like an animal.”  For a moment, she went quiet, her breathing back to normal, and then she said, “Thank you for coming, but I need you to stay someplace besides here if you’re staying for the funeral.”

 

“I already have a room,” Trevor said.  “I figured as much.”

 

 

*  *  *

 

 

The motel where Trevor had rented a room was the kind where men pay by the week or month.  He’d worked in the motel’s restaurant when he was in high school, short-order cooking on weekend mornings when the place filled up with locals as well as the overnight guests.  Twenty years since then, but he’d had a burst of nostalgia seeing the place still in business.  But now, returning to the room at nine o’clock after nursing a few beers in a restaurant with central air, he concentrated on examining the dripping air conditioning unit in the window and noticed that something like stalactites had formed beneath it.  When he turned it on, he imagined the fundamentals of Legionnaire’s disease in every breath. He decided to run it for an hour while he walked. Maybe whatever cold it worked into the room would last until he fell asleep.

 

Hiking along the highway’s shoulder was harrowing, the traffic on the four-lane road heavy.  A half mile of facing oncoming trucks, and he settled for going into Dunkin Donuts. He ordered two crème-filled, what Travis always bought, but he left the second one on the plate after taking one bite, dumping it in the trash.  He bought a bottle of Lysol spray at the convenience store a hundred yards farther up the highway and used it to clean the sink, the mirror, the floor of the shower and the toilet seat, telling himself the expense and the time was a sort of tax on memory.

 

The room was cooler, at least, though he had been quick to turn off the air conditioner.  He stripped to his boxers and held the pillow to the light, examining it with his eyes and nose. Passable, he told himself, but when he heard a door slam in the next room after he lay down, he felt so vulnerable that his heart raced.   

 

A loud chatter of Spanish began, and he was grateful, at least, for his end room because the thin wall admitted a crowd of voices, enough, he guessed, to account for four men sleeping two to a bed.  He tried to imagine their jobs, what paid for their miserable room, and when there was a burst of laughter, he came up blank for what might make them happy.  Already the warmth had regathered, and all he could do was throw off the yellowed sheets.

 

 

 

Woken by the heat, he was up by six, out the door within half an hour.  There wasn’t a car outside of the Spanish-speaking room.  None anywhere within five rooms.  The restaurant, he’d been told the night before, had closed three years ago. When he opened the newspaper to read with his Egg McMuffin, orange juice, and coffee, he recognized Dakota’s outfit, but the photograph was on page three, her interview underneath it because an eighteen-year-old girl had been arrested for the murder, her picture and story on the front page and continued on page two.

 

How many killers are caught before the funeral of the victim? Trevor thought.  School shooters, wife beaters, sure, but the rest? But here she was, the knife already found that stabbed his brother twenty-two times according to the article that called it a thrill kill, a man a few years older hiding behind the front seat in case she ran into trouble finishing the job.

 

“You never know what’s in peoples’ hearts,” the police chief had told the reporter.  “That’s why the police are always busy.”

 

The girl, apparently, wasn’t denying anything.  Her only excuse was that Travis had started groping her as she was driving toward some place where she could kill him in private.  “I didn’t know he’d be so big,” she said.  “I started getting afraid with his hands on me and him looking like 300 pounds at least.”  The stupid cunt, Trevor thought, forming the phrase with his lips, imagining saying the words out loud.  Since the wedding, Dakota had grown fatter than Travis.  Lately she’d made the two of them together weigh more than 500 pounds.  A quarter ton—the weight sounded like the payload of a small pickup truck.

 

 

 

Trevor spent the morning driving to every location mentioned in the article.  The mall parking lot where he’d met the girl, the strip club that he frequented, the block with the empty lot where his body had been found, the house two doors away that Travis owned, the house where the crazy girl and her boyfriend rented three upstairs rooms.  After lunch, he drove back to PorTView.

 

 This time he found Dakota in tears. “That bitch makes Travis sound obese.  Travis weighed 285 and was tall. They don’t even mention his height anywhere. Those that don’t know him will think I was married to a pig.”

 

“The bigger he sounds, the less guilty she is.”

 

“Somebody needs to correct her, make her tell the truth.”

 

He knew she was twenty-nine, eleven years younger than Travis, something that diminished any excuse she might have.  “I knew he loved me,” she said.  “He said it every time he left the house.  Every time.  Never missed.”

 

Trevor nodded, feeling like a policeman.

 

“Craig’s List.  I thought it was queers who hook up with strangers.  No offense,” but he didn’t change expression or answer.  Let her be, he thought, no matter what.  “Isn’t that what goes on at the video store up that way and farther up there in the county park?  Everybody knows.” She shifted her weight, the chair creaking.  “Well?” she said.  “It’s all true.  You don’t have to say anything.”  She folded the front section of the newspaper, smoothed it.  “She said she was somebody who supplied ‘delightful conversation.’  The fuck.  Everybody will think Travis a fat fool and a scumbucket both.”

 

“Everybody will know she said it that way to protect herself,” Trevor said.  “Plenty of respectable people answer those ads.”

 

“And plenty not,” Dakota said. “You know, Travis always worried about you and your risks, what you’d run into.  He said queers always cheat on their steady guys.”

 

“Except me,” Trevor said.

 

“Really?  How about Neal?”

 

“Him too.”

 

Taking a deep breath, Dakota pushed herself up from the chair, walking to the living room window as if she’d heard something outside. “It’s the damndest thing, isn’t it,” she said.  “Hardly more than a girl.  Already a mother, to boot.  If it wasn’t in the paper, who would believe it?”

 

“Probably nobody.”

 

“Sandy from next door is making me dinner,” Dakota said.  “She’s been helping with arrangements.  I know you just got here, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

 

*  *  *

 

There were updates on the five o’clock news Trevor watched in his motel room before he took his second shower. The girl has admitted that she and her boyfriend celebrated by going to a strip club, using the money they’d found in Travis’ wallet.  What he was going to pay her with, Trevor thought, but just then the next-door Spanish revved up again, and when Trevor stepped outside, deciding to drive to Panera Bread before heading down along the river to the strip club, there still was no car anywhere near the rooms closest to his.

 

He’d pulled into the strip club parking lot the day before, sitting among four cars in full daylight, but after dinner and a long walk in the residential neighborhood behind Panera, it was nearly dark, and he counted sixteen cars.

 

Inside, he asked the man who looked to be a bouncer if the woman who had spoken to the newspaper about Travis was working.  “Maybe,” the man said, and when Travis asked again, “maybe not.”

 

“The man who was murdered, the one she talked about in the newspaper, I’m his brother,” Trevor tried. 

 

“You don’t look anything like that fat fuck.  Maybe you’re just the police.”

 

“You know his name, right?” Trevor said.  He opened his wallet and showed him his driver’s license.  “See?”

 

The bouncer lifted the wallet from Trevor’s hand and squinted. “She’s on in half an hour.  I’ll see if she’s willing.  Buy a few drinks.  Make everybody glad you came.”

 

Trevor ordered a beer, finished it, and ordered another.  There was nothing to do but watch the bare-breasted woman who was on stage working the glittering pole only a few feet away.  One more beer, he told himself, before he became a fool.  He kept his eyes on the woman and tried to put himself in his brother’s place, feel his desire as some pop song he didn’t recognize blared.

 

He remembered the old Van Halen video Travis loved for “Hot for Teacher,” the teacher in a blue bikini swinging around a pole. It reminded him of high school when he followed the cues of his friends, the signals for laughter, and how he’d been afraid every day that he’d be found out. 

 

And it called up, like it always did, that moment in the kitchen at work, when he’d realized, talking to a boy his age who went to a Catholic school, that he’d met someone he might share more than small talk with.  Their joy in each other and relief that they went to different schools, the accidental secrecy they kept for nearly a year until he’d come out at graduation.

 

Just as he ordered a third beer, a woman wearing a loosely tied robe over a sparkling bikini approached and sat down, talking immediately. “You’re his brother?  Really?  I have to admit you take care of yourself better than he did, but you sure act like a cop the way you’ve been sitting there pretending to have fun for twenty minutes.”

 

“I’m trying to know all sides of him.  There’s a little cop in that, I guess.”

 

“You never went out with him when you hung out?”

 

“Not to places like this.”

 

She looked at him.  “You’re gay, right?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“You’re eyes are always up here,” she said, pointing to her face.  “It’s a thing I don’t run into much, even the cops eyeball your tits.  They act like they’re off at a distance, but their eyes grope you the whole time.”

 

“I can imagine.”

 

“Your brother was a good tipper, if that’s what you want to know.  He liked it all.  ‘Delightful conversation’—who does she think she’s kidding? That house of his he was supposed to be working on.  It has furniture in it, I bet.” 

 

“I wouldn’t know.”

 

“Listen.  You know what he’d say to me?  I looked like his wife would if she lost 100 pounds.  I felt bad for him.”

 

“He had his own to lose.”

 

She stood, the robe flowing open, and Trevor looked beyond her.  “You going to stay and watch?” she said.

 

“No,” Trevor said, but when she started to turn away, he pushed himself to his feet and looked into her eyes.  “That girl who stabbed him said they went to a strip club to celebrate.”

 

“Maybe down toward Harrisburg then. I was on that night, and those two weren’t in here,” she said, and it felt like some small comfort to Trevor that they’d driven past here, that they hadn’t celebrated in his brother’s neighborhood, something that would have linked where the body was tossed to where he lived. He hoped that they hadn’t known anything about Travis, that he hadn’t talked about himself as that girl drove toward Riverton, that he’d revealed nothing of himself but bad judgment to his killers.

 

*  *  *

 

Late the next morning, reading the newspaper with breakfast at Perkin’s, Trevor inhaled a bit of the fat blueberry muffin that came with his eggs and ham. He coughed for a minute, sipping juice to settle himself.  “You ok?” his waitress asked, though when he nodded, she didn’t leave.  “You had me scared there for a moment,” she said.  “It reminded me of my father choking with his esophagus cancer.  How he wouldn’t eat in front of anybody after a while.  All the time with the throat clearing and then the spitting in a cup like a tobacco chewer near the end.”

 

“It’s just me being careless,” Trevor said, but he could see the place was nearly empty, that no help from other tables needing something even as she leaned over the table and pointed at his open newspaper. “Those two stupids,” she said, “trading a few days on the front page for a lifetime in jail.”

 

“It looks that way,” Trevor said.  He lifted his fork, but she didn’t budge.

 

“Anybody with brains would wear their best I’m sorry face and calm things down.”

 

“They’re already about as worst as worst can be,” Trevor offered, and then he shoved a bite of cheese and spinach omelet into his mouth as a period.

 

“We can only hope.  The creeps.  It’s like they want to be a tornado, but all they are is a nasty little squall.”

 

When she didn’t walk away, Trevor swallowed and said, “It’s my brother who got stabbed.”

 

She gave a quick little forced laugh.  “No way,” she said, and Trevor pushed the entire last quarter of the huge muffin into his mouth, working it into a wad of paste as she backed up at last.  “Oh,” she said, but by now she was beyond the neighboring table, and Trevor had forced the muffin down his throat.

 

*  *  *

 

Sandy answered the door when Trevor knocked. “She said you was going to show up and to tell you she’s down in the dumps today.”

 

“I can stay or go,” Trevor said.  “Whatever’s best.”

 

“If you ask me, she’s embarrassed like she oughta be what with all the shenanigans on top of the tragedy.”  Sandy folded her thick arms below her breasts, her body nearly shapeless in her loose dress.  “You likely know about such things what with your proclivities and all.”

 

“How’s that?”

 

Trevor regretted not walking inside as soon as the door opened.  Now it felt as if he’d have to shove Sandy aside if he wanted to enter.  “Nothing,” she said, but a smile worked its way onto her face.  “At least you didn’t bring your pal along.”

 

“Neal’s been out of my life for quite some time now.”

 

“Which kind of queer are you?” she said. “You the boy or the girl when you’re doing your business with Neal?”

 

“Top,” he said, regretting, at once, that he’d answered.

 

“Well, that’s some word to remember for when I try to picture it, but let me tell you if you wasn’t blood kin to Travis, I’d bring my boy over to kick your ass right off this here porch.”

 

“He built like you?” Trevor said, and when her expression turned uncertain, he felt a flash of pleasure that blinked out when he saw Dakota standing in the hallway looking devastated.

 

Sandy followed his eyes and turned. “Your faggot’s here,” she said, but Dakota waved her hands in front of her face as if a swarm of gnats had materialized.  Dakota, Trevor saw, was crying, but now she walked into the living room and stood with her hands on her hips.

 

“The death notice runs tomorrow morning.  The funeral’s in the afternoon.”

 

“Well then,” Sandy said.  “I’ll be sure to buy a paper, and I’ll leave you two to commiserate.”

 

“That wasn’t about you,” Trevor said, but when Dakota looked beyond him, he turned and saw that Sandy had stopped a few steps into the yard.

 

He took a step inside so he could shut the screen door, but Dakota didn’t move.

 

“I know better,” she said, “but Sandy thinks she’s only a couple of weeks without pizza and ice cream from her high school body.”  She pressed a key into his hand. “Here, take this. The house in Riverton wasn’t a secret.  I could have gone and looked at it myself any time I wanted to.”

 

“Good,” Trevor said, and then he waited.

 

“I want you to take a look to see what he was fixing.  He was always handy with tools. And when was the last time you had to ask permission to make your own property a better place?”

 

Trevor gripped the key.  “I’ll give it a look,” he said.

 

“Right now.  It’s a long day tomorrow.  You can tell me what you see there.  We’ll have plenty of time after.”  She began to whimper, little gasps that lifted into whistling that reminded Trevor of how his mother had sounded when he’d come out to her the day after graduation. 

 

He’d waited through hours with her and his relatives, saying thank-you for each card that had a check tucked inside.  He’d waited until two ancient great-aunts left before he’d taken off for a house where a classmate’s parents kept an open bar and let them play their stereo at full blast until they fell asleep on couches or the carpet with pillows they found scattered on furniture. He’d even waited through dinner the following night before getting the words out. “Why?” his mother had said just before her shoulders began to heave.  “What did I do?” she’d added, before her voice shifted into those gasps and whistles.

 

By that time Travis had known for three years.  “It’s how he’s wired,” he’d said, but his mother had shuddered the way she did when she had to handle what she called the “awful giblets” before she put the Thanksgiving turkey in the oven. “You and your damn sensibilities,” he’d shouted when she got up from the table and walked away.

 

She’d turned at her bedroom door and stared at Trevor.  “You’ve never done that in this house, have you?” she said.

 

“Done what?” he’d yelled, standing, and she’d slammed the door behind her.  They’d never spoke of it again, not even, five years later, when she was dying from the breast cancer she’d kept secret from the doctor for too long.

 

*  *  *

 

The crime scene tape Trevor had seen two days ago was gone.  The police, he imagined, had decided anything inside was irrelevant or else they were already bored. There was a television set on a hard-backed chair, one other chair just like it, a card table, a table lamp, and a small refrigerator.  It looked like what might be found in an adult tree house.  Nothing appeared to be restored.  Though water ran from the bathroom tap and the toilet flushed, there wasn’t furniture in any of the other rooms.

 

The TV came immediately to life, but without cable there were only three stations with an image, and all of those were obscured by heavy snow.  Nobody but the tortured would watch the screen for more than a few seconds, so Trevor knew his brother had used the set for movies, porn maybe, though there weren’t any discs in the house that he could see, so maybe Travis had watched Citizen Kane.  He could ask at the police station, see if they’d taken anything like that as evidence.  See if they had a curiosity about just how and why he was poking around inside.  In eight days, he thought, the month will end, and soon after or maybe even that very day, this house will go dark.  Already, it had the look of a place that would be razed.

 

He shut the TV off, sat down and bowed his head in the dim light that seeped in from the street.  He didn’t want a neighbor calling the police.  He’d expected to be sad or angry, but now he felt solemn.  Like he was already in church.  Like looking at his shoes meant he was asking for mercy.

 

Late on the night of his 30th birthday party, Travis had drunkenly told him, “It’s so hard with women.  Here I am thirty and what have I ever done?  It has to be easier being gay. You know what men want, and there’s none of that song and dance that goes with trying to get laid.”

 

“I’ve never done hookups,” Trevor had said.  “I’ve been with Neal since freshman year in college.  Ten years.  It’s different, but the same.”

 

Travis had shaken his head.  “You have no idea how hard it is to get a girl into bed.”  Six months later Travis had married Dakota.  At the wedding, Trevor was certain both of them were virgins.

 

*  *  *

 

 

In the morning Trevor carried his laptop to Starbuck’s, a place he was sure would have WiFi.  He sipped on coffee at a corner table and logged on to Craig’s List, the personals for Williamsport, the closest town on the list of Pennsylvania cities. 

 

Men for Women had nothing but the expected:  “Looking for Ms. Right. Married looking for young girl.”  Women for Men had items like  “Tired of being lonely” and “Love like you’ve never been hurt.”

 

Men for Men had twelve messages for the day already: “Looking to suck now.   Younger into older play at my hotel.”  Trevor opened an account and answered three of the messages, promising in each reply that he was submissive and wanted to please.

 

He ordered a blueberry muffin and another coffee.  He read the newspaper’s account of the stabber’s previous life, her mother’s assertion it was devil worship that drove her to kill, an initiation she had been forced into.  A picture of the girl as a child was placed alongside the article.

 

When nearly an hour had passed, he checked back at Craig’s List and found a return message from a man who agreed to meet him early the next morning at the overlook at the nearby county park, describing the make and model and color of his car and exactly where it would be parked.  The end of the message read, “I want you exposed and on your knees.” 

 

After he said “yes,” Trevor drove back to the motel, took a long shower, and dressed for the funeral.

 

*  *  *

 

 

The viewing at the funeral home was packed, but only three cars followed the hearse to the cemetery, so Trevor was surprised to see a minister already at the gravesite.  “A price has been paid,” the minister began, and Trevor tensed, but the rest was about forgiveness—a loving husband and a man who’d held a steady job and treated others well, a menu of small, good qualities that added up to enough to qualify for a room in heaven.

 

This minister, Trevor knew, would pronounce him damned because he was guilty, many times over, of an unforgivable sin. He and Travis had laughed about it a few times when Travis admitted he still went to the same church their mother had dragged them to.  “Hell won’t be so bad,” Trevor had said.  “It will be full of faggots.”

 

It was easy to joke about something Trevor was sure never would happen. 

 

The minister shifted into what seemed to be a standard homily about faith and eternity and belief in the forgiving side of God.  “That God,” the minister proclaimed, “will accept Travis into his arms.”

 

A child’s vision, Trevor thought, and drifted into memory of the toy box their grandfather had made for Travis when he was two, just before Trevor was born.  It had always been there in their room, large and painted white with bright red and blue circles, triangles and squares.  Bigger than a footlocker, his mother always said, though he hadn’t known what a footlocker was until he was ten, and Travis didn’t bother with the toy box anymore. 

 

And neither did he after he turned twelve, though one afternoon, when he was thirteen, he’d opened it for the first time in over a year and lifted a few old board games out, laughing at how easy the questions were on the games that said, “for all ages” as if their mother might actually be willing to play.  “That thing looks like a coffin big enough to cram your father into if anybody knew where in hell he was ruining somebody’s life these days,” his mother had said for the past two years.  “It needs to go, and so does all that stuff for little boys that neither of you will ever touch again.”

 

It had been Travis who said he liked it sitting there, that it made a shelf for things and maybe he’d like to pass along those old toys to his own sons when he had them.  “How about you?” his mother said, and Trevor had agreed that he liked it too.  

 

She’d thrown her hands up.  “You’re too young to be lost in the past.”

 

But that day, when he’d lifted out a couple of puzzles with large thick pieces that were stuffed under the board games, he found magazines and videotapes and knew why Travis wanted that toy box to stay.  He’d slid a video into the VCR, and it began in the middle of a scene with two naked women and a naked man.  His eyes had gone immediately to the man’s body, and before the scene had ended he’d opened his pants and stroked himself off.  He rewound the tape to where it had begun and made sure he put everything back where he’d found it.

 

He was so careful that it had taken Travis a few weeks before he said, “It’s ok, just don’t ever forget to put all the toys back.  Thirteen, little brother.  I know what that’s like.”

 

“I hardly ever open it,” he’d said, but Travis had cut him off.

 

“You don’t have to lie.  Jesus Christ, at first I thought Mom was rooting through the toys.  I was picturing her watching half an hour of blowjobs.”

 

After the minister finally shut up and he and Dakota had each tossed a shovel full of dirt onto the casket, Trevor started directly for the hearse, but he paused when he saw that Dakota had stopped to talk with the minister.   A moment later, Sandy and her broad-shouldered son, who looked still to be a teenager in jeans and a ball cap, stood beside him as if she was a family member.  “Those two fucks will get the needle,” she said, but it sounded like she was offering something she’d heard on premium cable television

 

“No, they won’t,” Trevor said, but he kept his eyes on the boy.

 

Sandy glanced to where Dakota still stood with the minister, and then, lowering her voices, she said, “I know he’s your brother and all, but Travis deserved being locked the fuck out of Dakota’s house long ago, and then maybe all of this wouldn’t have happened.”

 

“Shut the fuck up,” Trevor said, tensing, his fists balled, but when Sandy hissed once and veered away, her son fell in behind her.

 

 

*  *  *

 

 

A half hour later, Trevor sat with Dakota in Applebee’s with an appetizer sampler of deep-fried finger food.  Dakota finished two wings and a mozzarella stick before she spoke.  “A whole page of the newspaper was about that bitch this morning.  On the day of the funeral, no less.  Mark my words, next we’ll be seeing her face on the TV.”

 

“Let’s hope not,” Trevor said, going slow with the grease and fat, but ready to order a second beer.

 

“Hope is for the religious,” she said.  “Those two need hell right here and now so we’re sure they get what they deserve.”

 

“There’s never enough misery to satisfy.”

 

“You notice the newspaper people at the viewing?  They left right away after their pictures and such, and you can bet that’s the last the world will see of me and Travis.”

 

“Being left alone might be a good thing,” Trevor said.

 

“Don’t you bet on that,” Dakota said.  “I’ve had plenty of alone.”  She wiped her hands on a napkin before she picked up her beer mug and drank.  “You know what else? Travis was the first man who ever touched me, and now look at me.”

 

“I’ve only lived with one man that way,” Trevor said.  “I met Neal in college, and we stayed with each other for sixteen years.”

 

“Safety first, right?  But you, if you give it half a try, won’t have trouble finding another man, so fit and trim like you are.”

 

“There’s more to it than fitness.”

 

“Well, there’s Sandy let go of herself years ago and almost forty, but she has men over there all the time. I couldn’t do that, could you?”

 

“No.”

 

“So here we are. Travis had his ways, but he was here, you know?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Well then,” she said, and Trevor thought of saying “yes” to that as well but let silence settle instead.

 

*  *  *

 

The next morning at 8:15 there were two cars parked together near where the road leveled off into the recreation area that had a few picnic tables, bathrooms; he remembered that the overlook had a fence here because of how many children or careless drunks crowded the edge.  It was early, a time when those families and drinkers wouldn’t be wandering the park.  Trevor was glad for the arrangement.  He wasn’t climbing into a van where a second man or even a third might be waiting.  He wasn’t coming here after dark when anything might happen to someone cruising.  The man had labeled himself as “mature.”

 

The car the man had described was parked by itself near the rest rooms.  No one was inside, but Trevor knew the man must be nearby watching him, evaluating.  When he took a few steps toward the densest section of the woods, a figure stepped into view and turned into a narrow path.  Like Trevor, the man wore sweatpants and a t-shirt—he looked to be in his fifties, graying, a bit soft in the middle.

 

Trevor followed.  He felt his pulse quicken, the combination of anticipation and fear he hadn’t felt since the first semester of college when he hadn’t yet come out, not touching another body until he met Neal after the holiday break, and even then, holding back for weeks to be sure he wasn’t making a mistake. By the time he reached the spot where the man had stepped off the path, the man’s sweatpants were at his ankles.  He wasn’t wearing underwear.  The man, Trevor noticed, wore a wedding ring, and he stared at him until Trevor let his own sweatpants drop.  And then his boxers, and both of them stiffened as if being exposed outdoors was as erotic as the touch of hands and lips.

 

The man was thick and burly, his penis circumcised.  Anything could happen now, Trevor told himself as he knelt.

 

Though he didn’t believe that, not even undressed with a stranger, not even when the man pushed into his mouth and gripped Trevor’s shoulders hard, using his hands like a weapon.

 

 

Gary Fincke's latest collection is The Sorrows (Stephen F. Austin, 2020). West Virginia University Press published The Out-of-Sorts: New and Selected Stories, in 2017. Two of his other seven collections won national book prizes--Sorry I Worried You (Flannery O'Connor Prize, 2004) and The Killer's Dog (Elixir Press Fiction Prize, 2016).